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Partnership in Guatemala – Bridging Prosperity, Peace, and the Planet to Empower Q'eqchi' Maya Girls

As Maya girls are educated, the ripple effects are extraordinary: poverty is alleviated, forests protected, and community health restored.

Photo of Valerie Aas
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*Please Upload User Experience Map (as attachment) and any additional Beneficiary Feedback in this field

For this Bridgebuilder Challenge, CCFC developed a User Activity Map and Prototype Feedback Summary after input and feedback from WALC leaders. The process illuminated program development and evaluation efforts to date and has provided great insight into potential future enhancements. We are grateful to have had the opportunity to continue this process as part of the Bridgebuilder Challenge. These activities are summarized in 1 PDF attachment and 2 YouTube videos submitted with this application.

Explain your project idea in two sentences.

WALC is a conservation leadership program that synergistically utilizes education and empowerment to enable young Q’eqchi’ Maya women to become agents of change in Guatemala’s central highlands.

What is your organization name? Explain your organization in one sentence.

LPGM+Community Cloud Forest Conservation: protects the cloud forest and fights poverty in Guatemala.

Is this project idea new for you or your organization? If no, how much have you already executed on?

CCFC has been holding large WALC Programs since 2010. Between 2004 and 2010, CCFC held programs that became working prototypes of WALC. Each year, CCFC meets with peer instructors and all student participants, asking what can be done better, what should be repeated, and what should be eliminated.

What is the problem you aim to solve with this idea? How would you define this problem as urgent and a priority in your target community?

Poverty and environmental destruction are pervasive problems found across the developing world. CCFC’s context – the central highland remote mountain villages – face the worst poverty in Guatemala. Q’eqchi’ Maya women are at the bottom rung of the ladder and desperately need opportunities.

What is the timeline for your project idea? What are the key steps for implementation in the next 1-3 years?

CCFC has been building the WALC program for a decade. It is now time to expand and have a greater impact regionally. Over the next 5 years, WALC can become financially self-sufficient if CCFC invests in a processing center for cloud forest products. All WALC participants will learn how to add value to products from their own villages/region. This will 1) enable CCFC to provide scholarships, and 2) give WALC participants practical life skills that will make them financially self-sufficient.

Describe the individual or team that will implement this idea (if a partnership, please explain breakdown of responsibility).

CCFC Team: staff + 20 Q’eqchi’ Maya women, all WALC alumni committed to being positive change agents. Local experts teach a variety of topics (orchids, heirloom crops, family planning, outdoor adventure) at WALC sessions. LPGM partners by 1) sending travelers to CCFC and 2) administering the grant.

What do you need the most support with in this project idea?

  • Other: Please Say in Final Question of this Submission Form

What is your primary goal over the next 6 weeks of Refinement?

  • Collaborate with others in the sector

How do you currently measure (or plan to measure) results for this project?

We measure results in several ways: • Each week when students leave, we do a team debrief: what went well, what didn’t, what worked pedagogically, what didn’t, facilities, etc. • During/after each WALC session, we seek feedback: what’s going well, what needs fixing. At the end of the session, we do a major debrief. • We also track students in the next school year – rates of school year completion, longer-term outcomes and life project follow-through. Feedback is incorporated into sessions.

How has your project proposal changed due to your user research during the Beneficiary Feedback Phase?

Feedback Phase: We heard from many alumni WALC participants who emphasized the importance of and the need for building self-confidence and self-esteem as components of the WALC program. They emphasized how crucially important these components are in breaking the cycle of poverty and nurturing life projects in young Maya women. This feedback will be considered and integrated into future sessions.

(Optional) What are some of your still unanswered questions or concerns about this idea?

To respond to the question above, What do you need the most support with in this project area? Our response: Other: Import / Export Expertise. As CCFC moves toward becoming financially self-sufficient through developing cloud forest products, we would benefit from expertise from organizations that conduct similar efforts. The attached CCFC DRAFT BUSINESS PLAN outlines some of our considerations with regard to LPGM's role in supporting this work, but other input and ideas are very welcome.

During this Improve Phase, please use the space below to add any additional information to your proposal.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide these responses to expert feedback - both here and in the Comments section below: IN RESPONSE TO SUSTAINABILITY, IMPACT AND THE CHALLENGE OF RELYING ON EXTERNAL FINANCING: LPGM and CCFC are committed to the goal of sustainability. In CCFC’s WALC Program, this begins with each young woman. Peer teaching is promoted and utilized; program graduates are encouraged to return as teachers and leaders. Long-term goals of teaching agro-ecology and cloud forest product processing are to: empower young women to transform their communities and conserve the environment AND to utilize cloud forest products to make the WALC Program self-sustaining. The construction of a 1,500-ft2 production and environmental education center is underway; this will synergistically allow more young women to participate in the program and enhance production capacity. More information on the construction: More information on the business model for future development of cloud forest product economic sustainability is attached as CCFC DRAFT BUSINESS PLAN.pdf. IN RESPONSE TO DESIRABILITY AND VIABILITY AND OUR ABILITY TO SHIFT SOCIAL NORMS: Indeed, there is a great deal of violence against women in Guatemala. CCFC and others CAN shift social norms, providing women with opportunities to invest in themselves, their families, and communities. CCFC works to empower women for this very reason, teaching them about women’s rights and violence prevention. Empowered Guatemalan women are more likely to possess the means to do what is necessary to leave a bad or difficult situation, to care for themselves, and to improve their situation. WALC is a critically important opportunity for young women within this cultural context. As they learn about themselves and their potential, they are empowered in all aspects of their lives. IN RESPONSE TO FEASIBILITY AND POTENTIAL FOR SCALE AND BECOMING SELF SUSTAINING THROUGH INTERNATIONAL SALES: CCFC is striving toward financial self-sufficiency; external support is required for the next five years to achieve it. GHR support will assist with two important aspects of CCFC's vision. First, it will allow the WALC Program to accept every woman who walks down the mountain in hopes of joining the leadership training program. The WALC Program has grown annually, and CCFC wants to continue to accept all interested women; this requires intentional funding. However, the program’s unique beauty is the individual investment in and subsequent personal growth of each young woman. CCFC could potentially double its current WALC numbers, but there is a limit to scaling up given the program’s personal nature. Second, it will propel the program to become more financially self-sufficient. Funds will support program development, the completion of the production and education center, and the development of an international sales plan which will lead to long-term financial sustainability. Partnership is critical to achieve this, and LPGM’s transformational travel opportunities are also important to program success and long-term viability. Together CCFC and LPGM can develop a direct market access that links local producers in remote villages with young women doing value-added vocational training and then with congregations across the U.S. The WALC Program is also replicable globally. The concept of identifying environmentally endangered areas and working alongside communities to protect the environment, empower young women and improve communities can be replicated in any area where threatened biomes and poverty intersect. For further prospects regarding international sales, refer to the attached file CANDLES.PDF which summarizes what is theoretical but also a partial reality. IN RESPONSE TO RESEARCH AND ANALYSIS DONE TO CONNECT INTERNATIONAL SALES TO FINANCIAL SUSTAINABILITY AND WORKING AGAINST THE ‘FOR THEM’ V. ‘BY THEM’ MENTALITY: For further information about international sales and financial sustainability concepts, please see the attached CCFC DRAFT BUSINESS PLAN.pdf. LPGM and CCFC are organizations founded on the cornerstone of partnership and are committed to work that is "by the people" rather than "for the people." In all LPGM partnerships, we pursue the accompaniment model, striving to "walk alongside" our global partners. The CCFC partnership exemplifies and enriches this model. CCFC partners both with US and local Guatemalan organizations, always with a goal of empowering the Q'eqchi' Maya community. This plays out practically when CCFC staff visit WALC alumni, see their homes and hear their stories of applying their learnings in their family lives and communities. It is also demonstrated when WALC graduates become spokeswomen, passing on knowledge to peers and local school children. LPGM and CCFC believe that partnership and empowerment are not just organizational values but key methods for doing healthy, sustainable international development.

Lutheran Partners in Global Ministry (LPGM) engages individuals and communities in transformational partnerships across the globe. Partnership is vital to our work, whether it be in the Central African Republic where we partner to build peace via social cohesion, conflict resolution and economic development efforts; in India where we partner to provide access to education for nearly 1,500 impoverished children; or in Guatemala, where we partner to support conservation programs that empower young Maya girls via education and leadership training. Our local and global partnerships are central to our growth and sustainability, and we believe they are vital in achieving real progress towards peace, prosperity, and planet.

LPGM established a partnership with Community Cloud Forest Conservation (CCFC) in 2015. CCFC works in the central highlands of Guatemala at the crossroads of poverty, human population pressures exacerbated by poverty, and environmental degradation in one of the planet’s most important and valuable ecosystems. Villages in Guatemala’s central highlands are demonstrably experiencing extreme poverty while at the same time causing great degradation to the region’s environment.

Knowing important natural areas such as ground water recharge forests, national parks, wildlife areas, and protected areas all over the developing world are under threat from human impact spurred by poverty and lack of opportunity, CCFC recognized the acute need in this critically important environment.

CCFC was created to address these interconnected challenges – to alleviate poverty and protect forests through education, reforestation, community development, leadership scholarships, and ecological agricultural improvements. CCFC believes that holistic human and community development through education and capacity building is the key to conservation and peace building in Guatemala’s central highlands. Education – especially for young women – is key to the healthy and sustainable development of this region.

Yet for most young women in the rural Guatemalan villages of Alta Verapaz, education beyond 6th grade is out of reach. With limited resources, many parents send only their sons away to school, leaving girls with few options other than starting a family.

CCFC tackles this by addressing the complex cycle of challenges that the rural villages of Alta Verapaz faces:

Poverty ➣↩︎  Population explosion  ➣↩︎  Malnutrition  ➣↩︎  Lack of access to education ➣↩︎ Teenage motherhood

Each problem exacerbates the others. To address them, CCFC believes:

  • Education is a key element to ending poverty
  • Leadership formation is necessary for education to have a multiplier effect
  • Research shows that the best return on investment in education happens when investment is made in education for women

Explain your idea

CCFC developed an innovative and powerful education program that has shown immense promise in addressing these problems. Women in Agroecology Leadership for Conservation (WALC) is a 25-day leadership training workshop for young women – many of whom would otherwise not have an option to continue in school. The WALC Approach: 1) Define Geographic Region – Often, areas of highest conservation priorities are areas of highest need. CCFC’s work area is within 4 Important Bird Areas (IBAs). IBAs have been defined globally by BirdLife International, a British conservation organization. IBAs are defined by a set of very specific criteria. What is true for birds is also true for amphibians, reptiles, orchids, bats, and a host of other biodiversity indicators. CCFC focuses on 110 villages next to the cloud forest – villages with the highest rates of extreme poverty of any in Central America. 2) Define Potential Change Agents – the WALC Program works with young women at an age at which they either choose to become mothers or continue in school. It is a critical crossroads in life. CCFC works with females because, as research demonstrates, we see first-hand that empowerment of young women transforms social structures. 3) Define Partners – Please refer to the Team Members attachment. The WALC Program equips young women to be conservation leaders through agroecology, empowering them to conserve the cloud forest, transform agricultural practices, and pursue their individual life goals. WALC students also learn about nutrition, cooking, health, hygiene, family planning, career and educational options, self-esteem and other life skills. The goal is to offer students knowledge and skills that lead to productive, healthy and happy lives, enabling them to be positive change agents in their families, communities, and village. Through leadership formation, WALC helps young women stay in school and pursue their dreams. The WALC Program accepts 200 students each fall. CCFC has seen the difference a 25-day leadership workshop can have in the lives of young Maya women. Upon completion, students receive a scholarship that enables them to continue their education – an opportunity that has transformed lives. The dropout rate for girls moving from 6th to 7th grade in the region is 75%+ (the rate across 110 villages of CCFC’s work area). WALC participants from this same demographic have a less than 5% dropout rate. This is the WALC Program’s amazing impact. The WALC Program: • advances PROSPERITY of women and families in one of Guatemala’s most critical areas • promotes PEACE in communities by advancing education, health, and economic potential • conserves the PLANET’s resources by promoting sustainable agriculture, reforestation, and conservation The Challenge will provide this opportunity for 1,000 young Maya women, allowing them to gain needed skills and knowledge to chart their own futures, conserve the cloud forest, and transform communities.

Who Benefits?

CCFC’s WALC Program currently serves 200 Maya women each year. The Bridgebuilder Challenge will allow us to provide this opportunity to 1,000 young Maya women. Student families, communities and the 110 villages served by CCFC will also benefit. Each student brings skills, knowledge, and training back home, offering new, sustainable agricultural practices and economic opportunities that the cloud forest provides. Ultimately, the ecological health of the cloud forest and surrounding ecosystems benefit as conservation efforts positively impact this entire region. Lastly, CCFC partners – including LPGM – benefit through strengthened collaboration and increased transformational travel opportunities, allowing more people to learn about CCFC’s work.

How is your idea unique?

WALC is INNOVATIVE. It: • provides leadership training and educational advancement. Young women learn about their world and themselves, and are then empowered to pursue their dreams and education. It is a true synergistic model. • utilizes a peer teacher model – students receive training and then become the teachers, increasing confidence, ownership, and cultural acceptance. • is replicable in the most remote places, whether at the edge of the Kibble or Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Deforestation in some of the most important biodiversity zones may be described as “non-point source.” WALC transforms these seemingly intractable problems where others have failed. • is replicable. WALC cannot scale up from 153 leaders to 15,300 in a session. WALC needs to be local and contextual. But it is replicable. CCFC was invited to hold WALC sessions for young women from cocoa producing villages by the Int’l Cocoa Org and for young women in Guatemala’s Lacandon Nat'l Park.

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Full-scale roll-out: I have completed a pilot and analyzed the impact of that pilot on the users I am trying to reach with my idea. I am ready to expand the pilot significantly.

Tell us more about you

Lutheran Partners in Global Ministry (LPGM) engages individuals and communities in transformational partnerships across the globe. Partnership is vital to our work, whether it be in the Central African Republic where we partner to build peace via social cohesion, conflict resolution and economic development efforts (thanks in large part to a generous GHR Foundation 3-year grant); in India where we partner to provide access to education for nearly 1,500 impoverished children; or in Guatemala, where we partner to support conservation programs that empower young Maya girls via education and leadership training. Our local and global partnerships are central to our growth and sustainability, and we believe they are vital in achieving real progress towards peace, prosperity, and planet. LPGM established a partnership with Community Cloud Forest Conservation (CCFC) in 2015. Many of LPGM’s global partners do not have sufficient staffing to fully administer programs overseas. LPGM often plays an “administrator” role in the tasks of fundraising, providing operational support, and some program oversight to our global partners. The global partners are then able to focus on program delivery almost 100% which leads to greater program success. LPGM will serve in this same capacity for CCFC if Bridgebuilder Challenge funds are awarded. LPGM typically requests that 10-15% of the program budget be expended on program administration and oversight, while the remaining 85-90% goes to direct program needs overseas. That will be the case with this LPGM-CCFC partnership as well. LPGM will continue to promote Transformational Travel opportunities to Guatemala, hosting two trips on average each year for the foreseeable future. U.S. citizens who travel with LPGM will be able to travel to the cloud forest, walk alongside our CCFC partners, and observe, participate in and sometimes assist with program activities where appropriate. The goal of these trips is to allow cultural exchanges and understanding to take place while learning about and serving in another part of the world. LPGM usually hosts an adult-only 10-day trip and an intergenerational 10-day trip each year to engage travelers of all ages in CCFC’s work. As described above, CCFC has developed and successfully implemented the WALC Program for the past several years, and CCFC will continue to oversee all program activities in Guatemala throughout this opportunity and partnership.

Expertise in sector

  • 7+ years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.
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Attachments (5)


This business plan was developed as part of the "Improvement Phase" to respond to several expert reviewer comments and questions regarding long-term financial sustainability. Although mostly theoretical, some of these efforts have been implemented on a small scale with LPGM travel groups already in 2017. Further implementation will take place as 44 U.S. travelers have or will have visited CCFC from LPGM's transformational travel opportunities in 2017, with more planned in 2018.


Addendum to 2017 CCFC Draft Business Plan.pdf attached with this proposal.

2017 CCFC Bridgebuilder Challenge App Attachment.docx

Team Members, Inspirations, and Additional Links Attachment

2017 CCFC User Map.pdf



Join the conversation:

Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi Valerie,

It is great to see all the progress on your project proposal.

Are there organisations operating in certain geographies or sectors that you are keen to connect to for this project or in general?

Photo of Tricia

Hello Kate,
Thank you for your comments. I am partnering with CCFC from Minnesota, have led several trips to CCFC and am returning in 4 days! CCFC partners with many organizations in the region of Alta Verapaz and in Guatemala as a whole in addition to North American partners. One of their key partners in the region is WINGS, an organization that works for women's reproductive health education and services. CCFC also works ecumenically with faith organizations in the region and significantly with environmental organizations, including local birding and orchid societies. I think that as CCFC grows and has more staffing capacity, they excel at partnering with other organizations in Central America and beyond, utilizing their model of intersection between community development and environmental protection. CCFC co-directors, Rob and Tara Cahill, would have more specific answers to your question, but they are in a remote area of Columbia with no cell service. I'm hoping that they will be able to give more specific answers to your questions about particular organizations before the deadline on Friday. Best!

Photo of Valerie Aas

Hi, Kate! Thank you for the question. As Tricia wrote in response, WINGS is an important and current regional partner. There are also several partner organizations that already have or are working with CCFC, and that list is included in the attachments (Team Members section/list - Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Bird Conservation Network, US Fish & Wildlife Service, University of Mary Washington to name a few) as well as on their website. Rob Cahill, CCFC co-director, was also able to provide the following list in response to your question: Centro Ak Kutan, a study center at the Dominican monastery in Coban that is going to donate a substantial collection of books to CCFC's library (resources in both Q'eqchi' and Spanish); Ak Tenemit, an organization that specializes in community-based tourism in Guatemala - especially in the Q'eqchi' language region; as lay Dominicans, both Tara and Rob Cahill cultivate relationships and the Ak Kutan is a center for researching in the area of culture, society and faith; the Ministry of Agriculture (MAGA) and Education (MINEDUC) - CCFC already partners with MINEDUC but hopes to deepen that relationship while MAGA has visited and will visit again soon with the hopes to establish a stronger partnership; and the American Bird Conservancy because of two endangered species that live in the region. This is a short list of current and potential partners, but as the programming expands and deepens in the region, additional partnerships will be pursued as well. We hope this answers your question and provides more information about past, current and future collaborations and outreach efforts. Thanks for asking!

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